PHILADELPHIA -- In the regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles secondary yielded 13 catches, 194 yards and two touchdowns to the wide receiver trio of Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn, who entered the day with a combined 26 games of NFL experience -- 24 of which were provided by Richardson.
The answer is serious, game-altering damage if Philly's back end doesn't get some help.
The Eagles' cornerback position begins the season in a state of flux. Jalen Mills remains sidelined because of a foot injury that dates to last October. His counterpart, Ronald Darby, is coming off an ACL tear and is still not at full-tilt. That has caused defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to go with a rotation at corner to start, with Darby, Rasul Douglas and 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones sharing snaps on the outside while Avonte Maddox mans the slot. The group struggled to get in sync early against Washington before stabilizing in the second half.
"It's not ideal long term, but right now, we'll do that until we settle in at the position and then see where that takes us," Schwartz said of the rotation.
There has been plenty of hand-wringing in Philadelphia this week over which grouping Schwartz should start, but any way you slice it, Atlanta holds a significant advantage in this matchup on paper.
Football games are often determined up front, though, and that might prove to be the Eagles' saving grace. Atlanta's line is in a vulnerable state, and faces a pass rush that has made quarterback Matt Ryan look awfully mortal of late. In his past three games against the Eagles (all losses), Ryan has posted a Total QBR of 30, averaged 243 passing yards and completed just 55% of his throws, compared to a total QBR of 74, 294 passing yards per game and a 69% completion rate in the rest of his games. The Eagles racked up nine sacks and an absurd 32 QB hits in those three games.
Schwartz likes to bring the heat against Ryan. He sent a blitz on 27% of Ryan's dropbacks in those games, compared to 19% against the rest of the league over that time.
"Our guys just -- I don't want to say they play differently -- but they just get after him and they put pressure on him," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "Any time you do that to quarterbacks and disrupt their timing, you can cause turnovers, incomplete passes, move him off his spot, whatever it is, and we have been able to do that."
The Eagles' ability to shut down the Falcons' ground game (Atlanta has averaged 69 yards rushing in the past three games against Philadelphia) has put them in a position to attack Ryan, which is why limiting Devonta Freeman was such a point of emphasis in the locker room this week.
"For us, it's not creating a situation where they're balanced, and we can get into some real passing situations and pin our ears back," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Against this team, they make you earn the right to rush the passer. And if you earn it, you can have some fun. But if not, it's a long day."
The Eagles know Jones is going to get his. He has averaged 10 catches and 135 in his past three games against Philly. But he failed to score in all three of those games thanks to a stingy goal-line defense.
That recipe -- stopping the run, disrupting Ryan and tightening up at the goal line -- is what's required if the Eagles and their fledgling secondary are to come out of Atlanta 2-0.